A Travellerspoint blog

December 2011

Christmas lights in the Centro Histórico

!Feliz Navidad!

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Feliz Navidad

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The Christmas tree in the Zócalo

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Christmas Day is just hours away, so it's time to wish everyone a very Happy Christmas from Mexico! Here are a few photos of the Christmas lights in Mexico City's huge public square, the Zócalo, where everything happens, and a few other places!

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Posted by margaretm 06:17 Archived in Mexico Tagged traditions christmas_lights Comments (0)

Letter to Santa, Father Christmas, Papa Noel, Three Kings

This year I'm sending out a Christmas letter, in the hope that someone will make my wishes come true:

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Dear Santa, Father Christmas, Papa Noel and Your Majesties, Balthasar, Gaspar and Melchior (the Wise Men, Three Kings or Reyes Magos)

Peace and goodwill to all of you. I hope you are well and have plenty of helpers to assist you at this very busy time of year. It must be very stressful and that's not good for your heart. As you already know (because somehow you know everything), I live in Mexico City and would like to ask for the following things this year for Christmas. The list is quite long but as you will see, they are all such worthy things that I found it difficult to decide which ones I should include. I'll let you choose which you think are most appropriate.

These are some things Mexico City needs:

1. Some clean air to breathe.
2. Less traffic.
3. More bicycles and people being nicer to bike users.
4. A new public transport system which is efficient, clean and, above all, gets you to your destination in one piece.
5. Filling in the holes in the roads.
6. Watering the flowers along Reforma at a time that isn't rush hour.
7. A compulsory driving test for everyone and a specially difficult one for bus drivers.
8. Some African elephants in the zoo.
9. Unarmed policemen who don't shoot first and then ask.
10. An end to the dysfunctional legal system, impunity, presumption of guilt, crooked cops and cooked-up stories.
11. No earthquakes over 4.7 on the Richter Scale.
12. A decent education for everyone, no matter where they live, politicians included.
13. A ban on newspapers showing gruesome, blood-drenched photos and only reporting about violence and crimes.
14. A more equal distribution of water during the 12 months. Eight months in a row is too long without any rain.
15. Police cars which go faster than 20 kmph and don't use flashing lights except in emergencies.
16. Hiding of all ugly tangles of overhead wires and cables.
17. Punctuality or a re-definition of time, i.e. how many minutes are there exactly in half an hour? 30 or 49 or 167?
18. Proper jobs for everyone, including the "clown" man who stands at the traffic lights with a stuffed monkey on his shoulder, juggling.
19. Brand new buses so we can get rid of the ancient peseros.
20. Miraculous parting of the traffic when ambulances need to get somewhere in an emergency.
21. A ban on all kidnapping, corruption and narcotraficantes.
22. Fresh clean water in the lakes in Chapultepec Park.

* * * * *
Here are also a few personal requests for my family and me:

1. More hours of sunshine in the winter to warm up our house. It's very cold there.
2. Fewer calories in quesadillas and just a little less chilli in guacamole.
3. A nice big consignment of Marmite to last until the end of 2012.
4. A safe driver for Cristina and Marc's school bus.
5. A "vertical take-off and flight" accessory for the Toyota so Josep can get home quickly in the evenings.
6. An enclosed park just for Ozzy so he can run around by himself and get rid of his energy instead of dragging us around.
7. More patience to endure the traffic jams or a year's supply of interesting magazines to accompany us in the car.
8. Another hummingbird feeder which doesn't leak.
9. Cristina and Marc would like school to start at 9.10 am instead of 7.30 am.
10. Josep would like a magic wand to use at work and a little more humidity in the air to stop his nosebleeds.

Thanking you in advance and have a very Happy Christmas!

Yours sincerely

Me ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

P.S. Can any of you stop my Brownies from coming out of the oven like hard volcanic rocks?

Posted by margaretm 04:34 Archived in Mexico Tagged christmas Comments (2)

"La Magia de la Navidad" in Mexico City

Christmas magic...

IMG_0396_T..thedral.jpg

+++

I can remember clearly when I heard the first Christmas carol this year. It was the day after Dia de Muertos and I was in the supermarket, prodding some avocados to see if they were ripe enough to take home for a salad. Suddenly, my ears pricked up. I could have sworn they were playing "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" in the background. It was the first week in November and here I was in short sleeves. The last thing I had on my mind was Christmas and snow.

Sure enough, a few days later, I was back in the supermarket doing my weekly grocery shopping when I distinctly heard "Santa Claus is coming to town". Really? But we were still a month and a half away from Christmas Eve. Looking around though, I noticed that the pumpkins and scarecrows and candy skulls had disappeared, as if by magic, and there taking their place was a tall Christmas tree and a band of cute polar bears in woolly hats and scarves, clutching chocolates. Wow! That was a quick and early transformation.

And so the Christmas season has stealthily been creeping up all around us in DF for the last month and a half. For some time now, Rudolph's red nose has been making him a laughing stock among the other reindeer and the Little Drummer Boy has been busily drumming as if to announce an early start to the Yuletide season. Frosty the Snowman's friends too have invaded the city, despite the visible lack of any snow around. Campañas sobre campañas are ringing and los peces en el rio, fish in the river, are also in a Christmas mood (for those who understand Spanish carols). You see, my ears have become adept at tuning in to the canciones de Navidad all around me. But it isn't just Christmas carols in the air. Mexico City has been undergoing a not-so-subtle change. One look around and you can tell that Navidad has arrived. To tell the truth, I think it arrived over a month ago.

One of the first signs was the disappearance of the golden marigolds or cempasúchil flowers along Reforma. With their golden locks drooping, they were dug up and replaced by thousands of bright red Christmasy poinsettias, zigzagging their way down the centre of the road. "Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree, how lovely are your branches..." Christmas trees of every size, colour and decoration are now almost as commonplace as traffic lights in the streets. It was mid-November when one with enormous crinkly gold Ferrero Rocher spheres caught my eye outside the Auditorio Nacional. In the hot sunshine, I hoped they didn't have any real chocolate inside as otherwise there would soon be a sticky brown mess trickling down. The shopping centres are obviously competing to see whose tree is the biggest and most luxurious. On top of that, if you happen to find yourself in Antara Shopping Centre in Polanco, you may even be surprised by a snowfall. Artificial, of course. Every day for the last few weeks, in the evening, it feels like winter has arrived even though you took off any jumpers long ago, around midday. Perhaps it's not so far-fetched after all to be singing "Dashing through the snow...." here in Mexico City.

IMG_1194-1_-_Reforma.jpg
Poinsettias along Reforma

IMG_9130_-_Ferrero.jpg
Giant Ferrero Rocher chocolates

IMG_8345_-_Moliere.jpg
Huge illuminated Christmas tree in Polanco

IMG_0257_-_Antara.jpg
Christmas tree in Antara Shopping Centre

And talking about bigger and better, it's very traditional to set up a nacimiento or nativity scene in homes to remind the family of the story of Christ's birth. But you will also see large ones colonising house roofs and gardens and this year, the largest nacimiento in the world can be found down at the Azteca Stadium. It's a life-size Bethlehem-type village with 500 figures in 57 scenes created by the Colombian pesebrista, Gustavo Cano, which you can walk around to get the feel of what life what like and what happened that very first Christmas. I can hear the Spanish villancicos playing already...Vamos a Belen....

IMG_0143_-_Pesebre.jpg
Typical nativity scene

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A nativity scene in a shopping centre

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Traditional figures

IMG_0189_-_Camel.jpg
Camel and posters inviting us to go and visit the biggest nativity scene in the world

Last week I was in the Centro Histórico where I was surprised to see a group of rather merry polar bears, enjoying a joke on the green grass in the Alameda Park. Funny place to see polar bears, was my first thought. Then I saw they were setting up an entire winter wonderland in the park for kids. Apparently, Santa Claus will be putting in an appearance here before he gets busy delivering presents on December 24th, although I'm not sure how he's going to get into some of the houses since there is a distinct shortage of chimneys around here. Maybe he doesn't need to since, like Spain, it's traditional here in Mexico for the Three Kings, Los Reyes Magos, to bring gifts to the kids on January 6th. The Kings too will be taking up their temporary residence here until then. For the last 40 years, Santa and Los Reyes Magos have been stopping off in Mexico City where thousands of children have had their photos taken with them and handed over their letters telling them what they want for Christmas. I heard on the radio that this will probably be the last year for this tradition since they will be completely remodelling the Alameda next year.

IMG_0240_-..r_bears.jpg
Polar bears in the park

IMG_0456_-..a_Claus.jpg
A few Santas can be seen around the city

IMG_0663_-..ia_tree.jpg
Santa on top of the building next to a Christmas tree made with poinsettia plants

Then as I made my way down towards the Zócalo, in the distance I spotted an enormous tree, a gigantic árbol de Navidad, whose angel was eyeing the tops of the old colonial buildings down in the large square. At least they've put the tree in the Zócalo this year and not near the Ángel de la Independencia in Paseo de la Reforma like our first Christmas here. It caused some of the biggest traffic jams imaginable, all for the purpose of getting into the Guiness Book of Records for the tallest Christmas tree. Not that this year's tree is much smaller. It towers over the nearby ice-rink which, in its turn, is also one of the largest in the world. Winter sports have come to Mexico City. As I watched the monitors skating, I wondered how on earth the ice didn't melt in the warm sun. Then the rink filled up with T-shirted novices, some of whom were having severe problems getting from one end to the other, but were obviously having tons of fun. Next we'll be seeing sleigh rides...

IMG_1317-1_-_Madero.jpg
Looking down towards the Christmas tree in the Zócalo

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Christmas has arrived in the Centre Histórico

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Tinsel and illuminated decorations on the buildings surrounding the Zócalo

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Feliz Navidad in lights, best appreciated at night

IMG_0358_-..k_above.jpg
Looking down on the ice rink

IMG_0339_-..thedral.jpg
Ice rink with the Cathedral in the background

IMG_0387_-_Skaters.jpg
Skaters enjoying some fun in the sunshine

And then there are all those makeshift stands set up along the road, selling Christmas trees, lights, reindeer, poinsettias and colourful adornos or decorations, often made of woven straw. The first year we were here, we couldn't resist purchasing a Rudolph, made ingeniously from twigs, since he looked so cute. He was accompanied by a few straw decorations. This year our tree and lights came from a stand which set up at the beginning of December.

IMG_0545_-..s_stall.jpg
Christmas stall selling trees and decorations

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Stars for sale

IMG_0662_-_Reindeer.jpg
Reindeer made of twigs

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Stand with decorations

IMG_0269_-..rations.jpg
Mexican decorations made of straw

IMG_0127_-..rations.jpg
Colourful adornos

IMG_0482_-_Bus.jpg
The Nutcracker Suite

I have to admit that one of my favourite Mexican traditions also reminds me of a Christmas carol."Oh-oh, Star of Wonder, Star of Light... ". All around the city, you'll see thousands of star-shaped piñatas, ranging from tiny to massive. In bright, shimmering colours, with tassles at the ends of the points, they are everything a Mexican adorno should be - eye-catching, colourful, ubiquitous, and stunning. Representations of the Christmas star which led the Wise Men to Jesus. Some have nine points, others have seven or five. Traditionally they were constructed around a clay pot filled with fruit and sweets which broke when the children hit it with a stick. Nowadays they are more likely to be cardboard and paper, not so hard on the head when they burst open.

IMG_0539-1_-_Pi_atas.jpg
Star-shaped piñatas

IMG_0659_-..as_star.jpg
Bright colours

IMG_0271_-..ildings.jpg
Stars on a building façade

Although Navidad has been creeping into the city for much longer, the official start to the Christmas season was the 3rd December when the Mayor switched on the lights in the Zócalo, inaugurated the ice rink and triggered off the massive parade of Christmas floats which made their way around the city centre. Britney Spears did her bit too, with a free concert at the Monumento a la Revolución. And now that Christmas Day is just around the corner, less than one week away, it's time here in Mexico for the tradition of posadas when they enact the scene of José and Maria trudging around looking for some room at the inn (posada). "No room, only a manger of hay..." as the carol says. When they eventually find one, there is a big party with piñatas for the children.

pistahielo2011_25057.jpg
Inauguration of the ice-rink and Christmas lights in the Zócalo

Yesterday some of the newspapers "predicted" a historic snowfall in DF. Actually, they didn't so much consult the weather people as the Mayor's weekend programme. Despite a deep blue, cloudless sky, it snowed along the Eje Central during the Gran Desfile Navideño, a Christmasy parade, which was watched by crowds. Half a million people's "dream of a White Christmas" came true. From comments I saw posted, another half a million got caught in the traffic jams due to road closures. They would have done better on the Little Donkey.... Arre borrequito... (giddy-up, little donkey).

All this to say, in case you hadn't noticed, I love this time of year... the dark nights and twinkling lights, Christmas trees covered with adornos and creative nacimientos of all shapes and sizes, wondrous stars and piñatas, turkey and tamales, paz and goodwill, Christmas carols and villancicos, Father Christmas and Los Reyes Magos, regalos and sharing with friends and family, but also with those who have little or nothing. But especially, Christmas with Christ first, as in the word itself.

Roll on Christmas!

IMG_1073_-_Daya_girls.jpg
Christmas party for the girls at Casa Daya and their children

IMG_0868_-_Ozzy.jpg
Ozzy in a Christmas mood!

Posted by margaretm 06:56 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

"La Magia de la Navidad" in Mexico City

Christmas magic...

IMG_0396_T..thedral.jpg

+++

I can remember clearly when I heard the first Christmas carol this year. It was the day after Dia de Muertos and I was in the supermarket, prodding some avocados to see if they were ripe enough to take home for a salad. Suddenly, my ears pricked up. I could have sworn they were playing "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" in the background. It was the first week in November and here I was in short sleeves. The last thing I had on my mind was Christmas and snow.

Sure enough, a few days later, I was back in the supermarket doing my weekly grocery shopping when I distinctly heard "Santa Claus is coming to town". Really? But we were still a month and a half away from Christmas Eve. Looking around though, I noticed that the pumpkins and scarecrows and candy skulls had disappeared, as if by magic, and there taking their place was a tall Christmas tree and a band of cute polar bears in woolly hats and scarves, clutching chocolates. Wow! That was a quick and early transformation.

And so the Christmas season has stealthily been creeping up all around us in DF for the last month and a half. For some time now, Rudolph's red nose has been making him a laughing stock among the other reindeer and the Little Drummer Boy has been busily drumming as if to announce an early start to the Yuletide season. Frosty the Snowman's friends too have invaded the city, despite the visible lack of any snow around. Campañas sobre campañas are ringing and los peces en el rio, fish in the river, are also in a Christmas mood (for those who understand Spanish carols). You see, my ears have become adept at tuning in to the canciones de Navidad all around me. But it isn't just Christmas carols in the air. Mexico City has been undergoing a not-so-subtle change. One look around and you can tell that Navidad has arrived. To tell the truth, I think it arrived over a month ago.

One of the first signs was the disappearance of the golden marigolds or cempasúchil flowers along Reforma. With their golden locks drooping, they were dug up and replaced by thousands of bright red Christmasy poinsettias, zigzagging their way down the centre of the road. "Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree, how lovely are your branches..." Christmas trees of every size, colour and decoration are now almost as commonplace as traffic lights in the streets. It was mid-November when one with enormous crinkly gold Ferrero Rocher spheres caught my eye outside the Auditorio Nacional. In the hot sunshine, I hoped they didn't have any real chocolate inside as otherwise there would soon be a sticky brown mess trickling down. The shopping centres are obviously competing to see whose tree is the biggest and most luxurious. On top of that, if you happen to find yourself in Antara Shopping Centre in Polanco, you may even be surprised by a snowfall. Artificial, of course. Every day for the last few weeks, in the evening, it feels like winter has arrived even though you took off any jumpers long ago, around midday. Perhaps it's not so far-fetched after all to be singing "Dashing through the snow...." here in Mexico City.

IMG_1194-1_-_Reforma.jpg
Poinsettias along Reforma

IMG_9130_-_Ferrero.jpg
Giant Ferrero Rocher chocolates

IMG_8345_-_Moliere.jpg
Huge illuminated Christmas tree in Polanco

IMG_0257_-_Antara.jpg
Christmas tree in Antara Shopping Centre

And talking about bigger and better, it's very traditional to set up a nacimiento or nativity scene in homes to remind the family of the story of Christ's birth. But you will also see large ones colonising house roofs and gardens and this year, the largest nacimiento in the world can be found down at the Azteca Stadium. It's a life-size Bethlehem-type village with 500 figures in 57 scenes created by the Colombian pesebrista, Gustavo Cano, which you can walk around to get the feel of what life what like and what happened that very first Christmas. I can hear the Spanish villancicos playing already...Vamos a Belen....

IMG_0143_-_Pesebre.jpg
Typical nativity scene

IMG_0189_-_Camel.jpg
Camel and posters inviting us to go and visit the biggest nativity scene in the world

Last week I was in the Centro Histórico where I was surprised to see a group of rather merry polar bears, enjoying a joke on the green grass in the Alameda Park. Funny place to see polar bears, was my first thought. Then I saw they were setting up an entire winter wonderland in the park for kids. Apparently, Santa Claus will be putting in an appearance here before he gets busy delivering presents on December 24th, although I'm not sure how he's going to get into some of the houses since there is a distinct shortage of chimneys around here. Maybe he doesn't need to since, like Spain, it's traditional here in Mexico for the Three Kings, Los Reyes Magos, to bring gifts to the kids on January 6th. The Kings too will be taking up their temporary residence here until then. For the last 40 years, Santa and Los Reyes Magos have been stopping off in Mexico City where thousands of children have had their photos taken with them and handed over their letters telling them what they want for Christmas. I heard on the radio that this will probably be the last year for this tradition since they will be completely remodelling the Alameda next year.

IMG_0240_-..r_bears.jpg
Polar bears in the park

IMG_0456_-..a_Claus.jpg
A few Santas can be seen around the city

IMG_0663_-..ia_tree.jpg
Santa on top of the building next to a Christmas tree made with poinsettia plants

Then as I made my way down towards the Zócalo, in the distance I spotted an enormous tree, a gigantic árbol de Navidad, whose angel was eyeing the tops of the old colonial buildings down in the large square. At least they've put the tree in the Zócalo this year and not near the Ángel de la Independencia in Paseo de la Reforma like our first Christmas here. It caused some of the biggest traffic jams imaginable, all for the purpose of getting into the Guiness Book of Records for the tallest Christmas tree. Not that this year's tree is much smaller. It towers over the nearby ice-rink which, in its turn, is also one of the largest in the world. Winter sports have come to Mexico City. As I watched the monitors skating, I wondered how on earth the ice didn't melt in the warm sun. Then the rink filled up with T-shirted novices, some of whom were having severe problems getting from one end to the other, but were obviously having tons of fun. Next we'll be seeing sleigh rides...

IMG_1317-1_-_Madero.jpg
Looking down towards the Christmas tree in the Zócalo

IMG_1332_-_Zocalo.jpg
Christmas has arrived in the Centre Histórico

IMG_1336_-.._Zocalo.jpg
Tinsel and illuminated decorations on the buildings surrounding the Zócalo

IMG_1346-1.._Zocalo.jpg
Feliz Navidad in lights, best appreciated at night

IMG_0358_-..k_above.jpg
Looking down on the ice rink

IMG_0339_-..thedral.jpg
Ice rink with the Cathedral in the background

IMG_0387_-_Skaters.jpg
Skaters enjoying some fun in the sunshine

And then there are all those makeshift stands set up along the road, selling Christmas trees, lights, reindeer, poinsettias and colourful adornos or decorations, often made of woven straw. The first year we were here, we couldn't resist purchasing a Rudolph, made ingeniously from twigs, since he looked so cute. He was accompanied by a few straw decorations. This year our tree and lights came from a stand which set up at the beginning of December.

IMG_0545_-..s_stall.jpg
Christmas stall selling trees and decorations

IMG_0660_-_Stall.jpg
Stars for sale

IMG_0662_-_Reindeer.jpg
Reindeer made of twigs

IMG_0269_-..rations.jpg
Mexican decorations made of straw

IMG_0127_-..rations.jpg
Colourful adornos

IMG_0482_-_Bus.jpg
The Nutcracker Suite

I have to admit that one of my favourite Mexican traditions also reminds me of a Christmas carol."Oh-oh, Star of Wonder, Star of Light... ". All around the city, you'll see thousands of star-shaped piñatas, ranging from tiny to massive. In bright, shimmering colours, with tassles at the ends of the points, they are everything a Mexican adorno should be - eye-catching, colourful, ubiquitous, and stunning. Representations of the Christmas star which led the Wise Men to Jesus. Some have nine points, others have seven or five. Traditionally they were constructed around a clay pot filled with fruit and sweets which broke when the children hit it with a stick. Nowadays they are more likely to be cardboard and paper, not so hard on the head when they burst open.

IMG_0539-1_-_Pi_atas.jpg
Star-shaped piñatas

IMG_0659_-..as_star.jpg
Bright colours

IMG_0271_-..ildings.jpg
Stars on a building façade

Although Navidad has been creeping into the city for much longer, the official start to the Christmas season was the 3rd December when the Mayor switched on the lights in the Zócalo, inaugurated the ice rink and triggered off the massive parade of Christmas floats which made their way around the city centre. Britney Spears did her bit too, with a free concert at the Monumento a la Revolución. And now that Christmas Day is just around the corner, less than one week away, it's time here in Mexico for the tradition of posadas when they enact the scene of José and Maria trudging around looking for some room at the inn (posada). "No room, only a manger of hay..." as the carol says. When they eventually find one, there is a big party with piñatas for the children.

pistahielo2011_25057.jpg
Inauguration of the ice-rink and Christmas lights in the Zócalo

Yesterday some of the newspapers "predicted" a historic snowfall in DF. Actually, they didn't so much consult the weather people as the Mayor's weekend programme. Despite a deep blue, cloudless sky, it snowed along the Eje Central during the Gran Desfile Navideño, a Christmasy parade, which was watched by crowds. Half a million people's "dream of a White Christmas" came true. From comments I saw posted, another half a million got caught in the traffic jams due to road closures. They would have done better on the Little Donkey.... Arre borrequito... (giddy-up, little donkey).

All this to say, in case you hadn't noticed, I love this time of year... the dark nights and twinkling lights, Christmas trees covered with adornos and creative nacimientos of all shapes and sizes, wondrous stars and piñatas, turkey and tamales, paz and goodwill, Christmas carols and villancicos, Father Christmas and Los Reyes Magos, regalos and sharing with friends and family, but also with those who have little or nothing. But especially, Christmas with Christ first, as in the word itself.

Roll on Christmas!

IMG_1073_-_Daya_girls.jpg
Christmas party for the girls at Casa Daya and their children

IMG_0868_-_Ozzy.jpg
Ozzy in a Christmas mood!

Posted by margaretm 06:56 Archived in Mexico Comments (2)

Squeezing 7 million pilgrims into DF

Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe

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Guadalupe_3.jpg

+++

Over the past few days, there has been a constant background noise of firecrackers.... crack...crack..crack...boom! As you make your way around the city, you are sure to come across men, women and children walking, cycling, riding in the backs of open trucks, singing, carrying images, or bending over with large framed pictures on their back. Lots are wearing T-shirts bearing the same design. So where are they going and why the pilgrimage?

Here in DF we are in the throes of Mexico City's largest Catholic festival, in honour of the Virgen de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe), Mexico's patron saint, which takes place around the 12th December. This year, by the end of the several-days-long fiesta, seven million people will have made the pilgrimage to La Basílica de Guadalupe on the outskirts of the city where the original image of the Virgen de Guadalupe is kept, said to be "responsible for uniting pre-Hispanic Indian mysticism with Catholic beliefs". One or two have cycled up to 1200 km from other parts of Mexico, others crawl in on their knees, many come from the surrounding states. Roads are closed or blocked, police cars and police motorbikes escort caravans of people, and trucks decorated with tinsel and images accompany pelotons of by-now wobbly cyclists. Early Sunday morning, before 8 o'clock, as I cycled through the centre wrapped in my jumpers and gloves due to Cold Front Nº 19, I saw groups of families including young children marching their way down Paseo de la Reforma. Some pilgrims have been walking for 4 days. Someone once said that it is virtually impossible to understand Mexico and its culture without appreciating the Mexicans' devotion of La Virgen de Guadalupe. I can believe that.

Pilgrims.jpg
Pilgrims on their way to La Basílica

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A group of cyclists follow their back-up van

When they arrive at La Basilica, reputedly visited by more people than St Peter's Basilica in Vatican City or the shrine at Lourdes, they will queue up to venerate the original image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, sing Las Mañanitas to her and attend a special mass. These days, unless it is your intention, it's better not to accidentally find yourself in that area since it has become the chaotic, colourful venue for teeming masses of weary travellers. Stalls selling sustenance for the body and soul abound. Scores of peregrinos lay sleeping on the ground in a state of combined physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion. Dancing, music, singing and lots of sharing goes on. Sometimes the unexpected happens. This year, a lady accompanied by her husband and three children was just minutes away from the Basilica when she went into labour and the baby was born there and then. The mother missed her chance of going inside since she and her new-born baby were taken to hospital.

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Devout follower carrying a framed picture on his back

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Masses of pelegrinos at La Basílica

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Colourful indigenous dances

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Weary travellers

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Merchandise in neaby stalls

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Carrying images of Mary and other saints

La Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe is built on Tepeyac Hill where the Aztec goddess Tonantzín, known as "Our Revered Mother", was worshipped in pre-Hispanic time. It also happened to be the very spot where according to tradition, on 9th December 1531, a poor Indian Juan Diego saw a vision of a lady dressed in a blue mantle who told him to build a church there. The local bishop wanted some proof that it was in fact the Virgin Mary so he asked the peasant to bring him some evidence. Juan Diego returned on 12th December and the Virgin Mary told him to gather up some flowers from the hill in his tilma or cloak and take them back to the Bishop. When he opened up his cloak, the flowers dropped out and the image of the Virgen was miraculously emblazoned on the fabric. The Bishop needed no further convincing and immediately ordered a church to be built on this spot. On completion, the image on the original cloth, framed in gold, was hung there. Since then, millions of devout followers make the pilgrimage to see this image which continues to baffle experts. To many, it sounds suspiciously like a rather cunning ploy on the part of the Spanish priests to get the Indians to convert from their Aztec beliefs to Catholicism. Whether or not the story or image is authentic, however, is not an issue for the masses of fieles whose faith in La Morenita is boundless and who come to thank or ask her for her favours and to make promises they may or may not keep. Since the old church was unable to handle such an enormous number of people, the New Basílica with its spectacular bold design was opened in 1987.

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The Old Basilica

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The New Basilica next to the old church

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The original image hanging inside the New Basilica

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The original image on fabric on show in the Basílica

La Basílica de Guadalupe is, in fact, the most important Catholic shrine in the Americas and is visited by millions from all round the globe every year. These days especially, though, it has been attracting waves and waves of Mexican pilgrims who have engulfed the city not only to venerate La Virgen de Guadalupe on the 12th but also to celebrate on the 9th the feast day of Juan Diego, who was canonized by the Pope in 2002, invoking him as the "protector and advocate of the indigenous peoples". I'm sure many too will stop to do a bit of sightseeing in the Zócalo while they are here. Then they will be gathering up their mats, blankets, bags and backpacks, (and maybe even their pots and pans), and beginning the journey back home, which may take anything from several hours to several days.

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And as some would say, it may be that, after all these centuries, the Mexicans are in fact still worshiping their goddess, albeit under the guise of their unique synchretic brand of Catholicism.

Posted by margaretm 06:34 Archived in Mexico Tagged religion traditions mexico_city virgen_de_guyadalupe la_basilica Comments (0)

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